The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Judge Slams USDA in Pharma Crops Case

by Michelle Chen

Aug. 16, 2006 – A federal court has ruled that the US Department of Agriculture violated several environmental statutes when it permitted companies to grow plants that have been genetically modified to produce pharmaceuticals.

In the first-ever court decision to broach controversial "biopharm" technology, the case centered on federal permits authorizing four corporations to plant experimental biopharm crops in Hawai’i. Biopharm plants, also known as "pharmacrops," are genetically designed to produce hormones, proteins, and other chemicals for medical products, such as vaccines or contraceptives.

For federal district court in Hawai’i, Judge J. Michael Seabright found that the USDA violated the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, which mandate that agency actions be subject to a public environmental-impact review process.

Under the permits, the companies ProdiGene, Monsanto and Garst Seed, as well as the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center, were allowed to cultivate biopharm corn and sugar cane between 2001 and 2003, with access to over 800 acres spread across the islands of Kaua'i, O'ahu, Moloka'i and Maui.

The environmental groups Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, Pesticide Action Network North America, and the Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance KAHEA filed the suit in 2003 with the public-interest law firm Earthjustice. The plaintiffs, which have long pushed for tighter regulation of the biopharm industry, argued that the modified plant strains could have contaminated the habitat and food chain through cross-pollination with neighboring crops or ingestion by animals.

The court ruled that the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) had failed to conduct mandatory investigations into the potential ecological impacts of the crops and had demonstrated "utter disregard" of federal protections for the state’s hundreds of endangered and threatened species. Later this month, Judge Seabright will reconvene the parties to discuss remedies for the violations.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

This News Brief originally appeared in the August 16, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Michelle Chen is a staff journalist.

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